Archive for November, 2012
Here is a list of various cultures and their words for “to forgive” or “I forgive you”:
Albanian prt falur
Catalan a perdonar
Castilian Para perdonar
Danish At tilgive
Dutch Te vergeven
English to forgive
Filipino upang patawarin
Finnish Annettakoon se teille anteeksi
German Ich verzeihe Dir
Hungarian n megbocs tok neked
Irish a logh
Italian A perdonare
Maltese li nahfru
Norwegian Til forlate
Portuguese A perdoar
Romanian Pentru a ierta
Spanish Para perdonar
Turkish BEN size bala
Vietnamese Ti tha th cho bn
Welsh i faddau
26 languages, 26 similar ways to communicate. This, of course, is no proof of the universality of “to forgive” or “I forgive you.” Yet, we put this term and this expression to the test and they were not defeated. At the least we can conclude that forgiveness has a place in many cultures. Here’s an even more comprehensive list of world cultures and forgiveness translations.
For each term or expression, we translated it from the English into the other language. We then back-translated into English and retained the term/expression only if both forms of translation were consistent.
In the Work Phase of forgiveness, I understand that I am to see the one who hurt me in what you call a “larger perspective.” I am to see how he/she was wounded as a child and as an adult. I am then to see how these wounds affected me. My question to you is how can I avoid continual pessimistic thinking if I am always seeing people as wounded and as hurting me?
When people forgive, they tend to take what we call the personal, the global, and the cosmic perspectives on the one who was unjust. For the personal perspective, you are correct that we encourage the forgiver to see the wounds in the offending person. If all we did was focus on his or her emotional wounds and on our own emotional wounds, you have a fascinating point that we as forgivers may begin to see the world as one big wounded mess.
Yet, there is more to each of our forgiveness stories as we go farther into the process. As we take the global perspective, we begin to see the personhood of the other. The offending person is special, unique, and irreplaceable in this world, as you are. This is not a negative perspective, but a positive one. Then when we take the cosmic perspective, we see that all humans are connected in some way, and the particular way will depend on your own world view, your own philosophy and theology of who people are. These perspectives on personhood are described in the book, The Forgiving Life.
I hope you can see that when we do the work of forgiveness and see the offending person in a larger perspective, it is not all negative. Forgiveness does require that we stand in the truth that someone was unjust to us and that he or she may be a wounded person. Forgiveness does require, further, that we stand in the truth that this individual is a person and all persons have inherent worth, a positive thought.
The Wall Street Journal – Lisa Gibson, whose brother died in the Lockerbie bombing, has forgiven the only man convicted in the bombing, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, as well as Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader who was considered the mastermind behind the attack.
In Dec. 1988, Lisa was an 18-year-old college freshman and her brother, Kenneth Gibson, 20 at the time, was serving in the U.S. Army, in Berlin. He was coming home for Christmas on Pan Am Flight 103 when it blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 270 people on board.
Now 42 and living in Colorado Springs, Lisa says she always knew in the back of her mind that she would have to forgive the perpetrators of the attack. “I began to realize that at the heart of terrorism is hate, and the only way I could move away from it was to have light and forgiveness,” she says.
In 2004, she sent a letter to Ali al-Megrahi. It said, simply: “Only God really knows if you are responsible for this act. But as a Christian, I need to forgive you.” He wrote back, said he wasn’t responsible for the bombing but offered his condolences and shared verses from the Koran and the Bible.
Then, in 2009, Lisa met with Gaddafi when he came to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly. In the 10-minute meeting, she told him she had made a decision to forgive and he offered his condolences. “His words said “I didn’t do it,’ but his behavior said he did,” says Lisa.
Read the full story: Forgiving Muammar Gaddafi for the Lockerbie Bombing.
The intriguing title to a Wall Street Journal article, “When Forgiveness Isn’t a Virtue,” motivated us at the International Forgiveness to ask the question: Is it ever possible for forgiveness not to be a virtue?
The answer is no.
Forgiveness has been considered a virtue for at least the past 3450 years, with the story of Joseph forgiving his brother and 10 half-brothers in the Book of Genesis. Since that time, forgiveness has been seen as one aspect of love, specifically being in service to others. The one aspect of love that particularly captures the meaning of forgiveness is mercy, or giving to others generously, even when the giving is not necessarily deserved if our focus is only on the virtue of justice.
When we forgive, we offer love, in the context of mercy, toward those who have treated us unjustly. This is the essence of forgiveness.
What, then, is the endpoint of forgiving? What is its purpose? We see three purposes to the virtue: a) to offer goodness (in the form of loving mercy) as an end in and of itself; b) to get the attention of the offending person so that he or she can see what was done to correct it; and c) to possibly reconcile with the transgressor if he or she does see the damage done and has remorse, repentance, and (where appropriate) recompense.
When the essence of forgiveness (what it is) is matching the endpoint of forgiveness (its purpose), then we can say that the person who is exercising forgiveness is doing so properly.
Now, let us look at two kinds of distortions of this ancient virtue. The first distortion concerns the essence of forgiveness (what it is). Sometimes people will misunderstand its essence. They might see forgiveness as a way of moving on from a situation or just letting a bad situation go. These are distortions of the essence of forgiveness because forgiveness is appropriated toward persons in particular, not situations. The offer of loving mercy is not “moving on” or “letting go” because one can move on in an unloving and unmerciful manner by dismissing or even hating the transgressor. Such apparent expressions of the essence of forgiveness are incorrect from a philosophical viewpoint because they are not capturing what forgiveness is.
The second distortion concerns the endpoint of forgiveness. Sometimes people will misunderstand the endpoint or purpose of the virtue of forgiveness. Sometimes people decide to forgive so that they can: a) keep an unhealthy relationship going at all costs; b) dominate the other by reminding the transgressor of the many transgressions, or c) remain passive and uncourageous by not confronting an offender. In any of these three cases, the person is failing to fulfill even one of the actual purposes of forgiveness.
Now, let us further suppose that we have a critic of forgiveness who criticizes the essence of forgiveness, saying that to forgive is a cowardly,
passive, non-constructive, or self-centered act of “moving on.” The critic may be right about what “moving on” might be, but he or she has not described forgiveness. Instead, the person has appropriated a distortion of forgiveness and then has criticized the distortion.
It is the same pattern when we turn to a distortion of the purposes of forgiveness. As a critic embraces a distortion of what forgiveness allegedly accomplishes and then criticizes that, he or she is fighting a straw man. Why? Because the criticism is pointed toward a distortion of forgiveness’ endpoint, not a true endpoint. When we forgive, we do not hold onto unhealthy relationships at all cost or dominate another or remain weak while hiding the virtue of justice under the bed.
When we clear away the distortions of forgiveness’ essence and endpoints we see more clearly. Forgiveness properly understood as a term and in its true endpoints is never not a virtue. A sharper way to say it is this: Forgiveness is always a virtue.
How does one forgive on behalf of another? My child was molested by my sister’s husband while in her care. I feel I cannot forgive for my daughter. Everytime I think of this person and this act, I feel hatred and do not believe I could ever feel any other way toward such a monster (and don’t really want to?), yet relise I need to release these feelings to alleviate the pain and anger I am carrying around. This particular form of forgiveness, when the ‘crime’ was commited against another, seems not to be covered in lierature, etc.
We are very sorry to hear of the mistreatment of your daughter. This should never, ever happen to a child. We discuss the kind of forgiveness you target in your question in the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice. You would not be forgiving on behalf of your daughter. Instead, you would be forgiving him for his injustice to you. He hurt your daughter. You are legitimately angry. You can then forgive him for the pain he has caused you by hurting your daughter. Once you learn the depth of forgiveness in this way, we recommend working with your daughter on forgiving him, if she is ready to do that. Please remember: When we forgive we do not toss out justice. As we forgive, we can and should ask fairness from those who have hurt us or who are a danger to others.